Garza: Cubs will get up after being kicked in the teeth


Garza: Cubs will get up after being kicked in the teeth

Matt Garza kept his glove over his mouth for nearly the entire walk from the mound to the dugout. You didnt have to read his lips to guess what he was thinking on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field.

In Garzas mind, he should pitch nine innings every time out. But a tie game was out of his hands now, and the Philadelphia Phillies would hammer away at the Cubs bullpen.

There is the image that Garza and the television cameras have cultivated. It could be talking to himself, or hanging over the dugout rail and yelling out onto the field. There are the sunglasses, the headphones and the hooded sweatshirt pulled over his head.

But for someone who seems ideally suited for a win-now contender, Garza sees the big picture. In his own colorful way, Garza speaks the same language as Cubs president Theo Epstein, preaching patience and player development.

Just listen to Garza after a 9-2 loss to the Phillies, when hes asked what a mostly young, inexperienced bullpen might learn after giving up seven runs in 2.1 innings.

Theres no easier way to pop up than after somebody kicks you in the teeth, Garza said. Youre pissed off and youre going to get back up and make sure it doesnt happen again. Thats the kind of guys we got, guys that arent going to quit, arent going to hide (or) put their tail between their legs and run away.

Theyre going to come back here tomorrow and work their butts off and make sure that crap doesnt happen again.

Thats what we need here. Every time Skip comes and takes the ball from me, I have no second thoughts, no regrets, no doubts. I trust these guys every time out. I hate when he grabs the ball from me, but at least I can trust the guys Im handing the ball to.

As much as Garza was being a good teammate, he knew he ran his pitch count high (107) into the seventh inning, and that manager Dale Sveum plays matchups.

With two outs, the Cubs had seen enough of Juan Pierre, who had bunted twice and the throws to first base seemed to have gotten into Garzas head.

Garza laughed it all off one was officially an error, the other was not saying that he slipped, he heard catcher Geovany Soto yelling Dont throw! and Pierre just got out of the box too fast.

Garzas review of flicking his wrist and throwing the ball into the ground: That was freaking hilarious.

Sveum was asked if this had become a mental thing: Im not a psychologist.

Garza who gave up two runs in 6.2 innings hasnt gone crazy while getting minimal run support and missing out on wins.

Shawn Camp who might be the reliever trusted most by Sveum allowed Carlos Ruiz to hit the go-ahead homer in the eighth inning. Michael Bowden who tried to get Scott Maine out of a jam gave up a grand slam to Hector Luna in the ninth.

(Bowden it's) his first time in the NL, so hes not familiar with any of the hitters, Garza said. Especially when its a guy that I didnt even know they had. I feel Im one of the most prepared guys and I had no clue they had Hector Luna on their roster. So its one of those things like Whoa. Just step back and take the positive things out of today and get back at it tomorrow and try to even this thing out.

The Cubs (15-22) are alone in last place in the National League Central, but that doesnt mean Garza wont fit into their plans.

Garza, 28, came up through the widely-respected player-development system built by the Minnesota Twins. He went to the 2008 World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays. He watched the Cubs crash last season and doesnt want to see it happen again.

I might be old in baseball time, but Im still young, Garza said. Ive just been (through) a lot. Ive seen a lot. Ive been to places where the organization was (near) the top. Players were first class. Thats just kind of what you emulate winners.

Ive been around the (Johan) Santanas. Ive been around (David) Price (and) some great arms. Ive been around some great veterans Torii Hunter, Rondell White, Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske, Troy Percival.

Ive seen both ends of the spectrum, and I took what I wanted from them and just kind of wrote it off on these guys and keep them in mind (to) help them grow.

So for all the jittery energy and fast talking, there is another side to Garza. As Epstein once said, theres a method to the madness.

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The Cubs felt so nervous just before a 7:09 first pitch on Saturday night that Javier Baez found the camera looking into the home dugout, waved with a big smile and started pumping his fist, hamming it up for the video board as Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” blasted through the Wrigley Field sound system.

The Cubs then ran out onto the field and systematically destroyed the Los Angeles Dodgers, ending this National League Championship Series in six games with a 5-0 win that featured almost no tension or suspense, obliterating for now the narrative around this franchise.

The old stadium still kept shaking, from Kris Bryant’s RBI single in the first inning to the clapping to Anthony Rizzo’s “Intoxicated” walk-up music to a standing ovation for Kyle Hendricks, who outpitched the supposed best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw.

“We don’t care about history,” Bryant said. “This is a completely different team, different people all around. It doesn’t matter. This is a new Chicago Cubs team. And we are certainly a very confident group.”

Sure, 1908 will hover over the entire World Series, which begins Tuesday night against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. But this is the new normal for Bryant, who within two years has won 200 games, four playoff rounds, a Rookie of the Year award and probably MVP hardware.

This team isn’t going away, either. With a chance to win the pennant for the first time since the Truman administration, the Cubs started two rookies who began this season at Triple-A Iowa – catcher Willson Contreras and outfielder Albert Almora Jr. – in a lineup that featured Bryant (24), Rizzo (27), Baez (23), Addison Russell (22) and Hendricks (26).

Contreras caught a shutout and posed for a moment at home plate watching his line-drive homer off Kershaw fly into the left-field bleachers in the fourth inning. Rizzo – who had looked overmatched earlier in the playoffs – became the first left-handed hitter to homer off Kershaw during this calendar year.

And when Rizzo tried to wave off Baez for the ball Josh Reddick popped up to the right side of the infield in the fifth inning, Baez cut right in front of Rizzo to catch it, continuing a long-running gag among the Cubs infielders.

“I don’t think they’re oblivious, because that’s sort of insulting in some ways,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “They know the history. I just don’t think they care. They think they’re a good team and they love to play. And we have some guys that definitely shine on the big stage.”

Baez – a September call-up last year who couldn’t get an everyday spot during the regular season – showed off his bat speed and unbelievable defensive instincts and emerged as the NLCS co-MVP along with big-game pitcher Jon Lester. Sold on the idea of all this young talent someday coming together, Lester joined a last-place team after the 2014 season, taking a leap of faith, even at $155 million.

“I don’t feel like there’s pressure at all in our clubhouse,” said Almora, the first player Theo Epstein’s front office drafted here in 2012. “There’s just hunger and excitement and desire to win.

“None of us were around in 1945…so we just got to write our own history.”

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This is what the Cubs have been talking about since the New York Mets swept them out of last year’s NLCS, since the Ricketts family invested almost $290 million more in free agents, since unconventional manager Joe Maddon made “Embrace The Target” the theme of spring training.

Whatever your preconceived notions of the old Cubs are, know that this group has an amazing sense of balance. They are youthful and experienced. They play as a team and with individual flair. They have style and get dirty. They are analytical and sort of oblivious. They are loose and intense. And the ending hasn’t been written yet.

“We still got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “We’ll enjoy tonight – don’t get me wrong – we’ll have a celebration. We’ll have a good time. We’ll smile, we’ll hug each other, probably get drunk a little bit…but we got some work to do.”

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

John Hendricks sent a text message to his son at 11:24 a.m. on Saturday: “Good luck tonight!! Remember, great mechanics and preparation will prevail. Just let it go!!” It ended with three emoji: a smiley face with sunglasses, the thumbs-up sign and a flexed biceps.

The Cubs have bonded fathers and sons for generations, and Hendricks immediately understood what it meant for his boy when the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers minutes before the deadline on July 31, 2012, telling Kyle: “You win in this city, you will be a legend. There is no doubt about it. This is the greatest sports town in the United States.”

This is the intoxicating lure of the Cubs. It didn’t matter that Kyle had been an eighth-round pick out of Dartmouth College, and hadn’t yet finished his first full season in professional baseball, and would be joining an organization enduring a 101-loss season, the third of five straight fifth-place finishes.

Kyle’s low-key personality will never get him confused with an ’85 Bear, but he delivered a legendary performance in Game 6, outpitching Clayton Kershaw at the end of this National League Championship Series and leading the Cubs to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

Five outs away from the pennant, a raucous crowd of 42,386 at Wrigley Field actually booed star manager Joe Maddon when he walked out to the mound to take the ball from Kyle and bring in closer Aroldis Chapman. Kyle, the silent assassin, did briefly raise his hand to acknowledge the standing ovation before descending the dugout steps. 

After a 5-0 win, Kyle stood in roughly the same spot with Nike goggles on his head and finally looked a little rattled, his body shivering and teeth chattering in the cold, his Cubs gear soaked from the champagne-and-beer celebration.

“It’s always been an uphill climb for me, honestly,” Kyle said. “But that really has nothing to do with getting guys out. My focus from Day 1 – even when I was young, high school, college, all the way up until now – all it’s been is trying to make good pitches. 

“And as we moved up, you just saw that good pitches get good hitters out.” 

At a time when the game is obsessed with velocity and showing off for the radar gun, Kyle knows how to pitch, putting the ball where he wants when he wants, avoiding the hot zones that lead to trouble, mixing his changeups, fastballs and curveball in an unpredictable way that takes advantage of the team’s intricate scouting system and keeps hitters completely off-balance.

“Kyle didn’t even give them any air or any hope,” general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Amid the celebration, scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod spotted Kyle’s dad and yelled at John: “You f------ called it!” John – who once worked in the Angels ticket office and as a golf pro in Southern California – had moved to Chicago two years ago to work for his good friend’s limo company and watch his son pitch at Wrigley Field. John had told McLeod that Kyle would one day help the Cubs win a championship.

“That was one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen,” McLeod said. “Ever.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities] 

The media framed Kyle as The Other Pitcher, even though he won the ERA title this season, with all the pregame buzz surrounding Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. Except Kershaw gave up five runs and got knocked out after five innings, while Kyle only gave up two singles to the 23 batters he faced, finishing with six strikeouts against zero walks and looking like he had even more left in the tank at 88 pitches.

“It was incredible,” Ben Zobrist said. “That was the easiest postseason game we’ve had yet and it was the clincher to go to the World Series. 

“He’s just so good, so mature for his age. He just has a knack to put the ball where he needs to. He’s smart and he’s clutch. He deserves to win the Cy Young this year.”

Where Kershaw’s presence loomed over the entire playoffs, Kyle has always been underestimated, coming into this season as a fourth or fifth starter with something to prove, and even he didn’t see all this coming. But big-game pitchers can come in all shapes and sizes and don’t have to throw 97 mph. 

“He wants the ball,” John said. “Every big game – I don’t care if it was Little League or wherever – he wants the ball. Plain and simple, (he’ll) get the job done.”